Epic Sock Puppet Theater
Disinformation from animatronic puppets

Epic Sock Puppet Theater is an interactive installation and research project featuring animatronic sock puppets that perform social media posts from “sock puppet” accounts known to have engaged in disinformation campaigns.

“Sock puppets” are imposter social media accounts created to infiltrate groups, surveil and provoke people, and spread disinformation. Epic Sock Puppet Theater helps the public resist sharing harmful content by familiarizing them with tactics used by sock puppet disinformation campaigns. The project is based on research that has found that the revelation of a sock puppet has helped targeted members of the public identify other sock puppets and that controlled exposure to sock puppets serves as a form of ‘inoculation’ against future disinformation. By scrolling through a dataset of social media posts made by fake accounts to be performed by puppets, participants become familiar with disinformation tactics. The disinformation performed by the animatronics was compiled from datasets released by academic researchers, government agencies, journalists, and our own research. The goal of these campaigns has been to polarize and divide the public on various topics.

To promote critical reflection while experiencing sock puppet disinformation, our project uses techniques from Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theater, which emphasizes audience participation and distancing techniques for the presentation of politically charged content. The puppets break the fourth wall, directly address participants, and only perform when users’ interact with them. The constructedness of the puppets is foregrounded, and the humorous contradiction between the playful appearance and sound of the puppets with the seriousness of the content provokes reflection rather than reaction to the content. The project is able to quickly incorporate new datasets as disinformation campaigns emerge, so as sock puppet tactics evolve, the project will be able to address them.

Epic Sock Puppet Theater was supported by the MediaFutures Artists for Media residency program focusing on online misinformation and disinformation and was the winner of the 2023 Artists for Media prize.

Visit the Epic Sock Puppet Theater website

This project is a collaboration with Jennifer Gradecki.

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